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How to get your butt kicked in a US Senate race in the South in five easy steps

Step 1

Run as a Democrat…Sort of

To be fair, Phil Bredesen ran as a Democrat and, technically speaking, is a Democrat, but, like, barely.

Even though we all know running as a Democrat (even a barely Democrat) in the South is an upmountain battle, Bredesen was a popular governor of Tennessee, was one of Nashville’s better Mayors, and was a notoriously “common sense” businessman. It made sense we Red State Democrats believed he could win, and all the polls indicated he even had a good chance up until October 5 when…well…I’ll save that for Step 3.

For some reason, Southern voters love pulling the lever for business-men (just look at the business-man who just won our governor’s race) but running as a D in a deep R state is an uphill battle no matter what D you are in the South.

This, I concede.

Back in 2004, I was a Field Organizer for South Carolina’s Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum’s race for US Senate. She hoped to take over for Fritz Hollings, an old-school Democrat who’d owned his senate seat for nearly forty years, and she was running against a total nincompoop (see US Senator Jim DeMint).

Tenenbaum and the DNC ran a fabulous grassroots campaign that saw an unprecedented ground campaign of canvassers, phone bankers, visits to state fairs, apple festivals, and house parties, etc... Tenenbaum oozed Southern charm. She aced her debates (admittedly, against a nincompoop who wanted to eliminate the IRS and levy an absurdly high flat consumption tax). She crisscrossed the state from the piedmont to the sandhills to Myrtle Beach to Charleston.

She did everything right, yet the nincompoop still won…by ten percent…which I suppose could be called a butt kickin’, but let’s not forget that Inez Tenenbaum was a woman running in the most-conservative state in the nation in 2004. Times have, supposedly, changed.

Phil Bredesen, on the other hand, ran in 2018 as a respected business-man who had already run successful races for the highest of political offices in the state, and also lost by ten percent to a Trumpublican in Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee's first female US Senator.

So…what gives?

Step 1 to losing a US Senate race in the South is to


This must be conceded. If you look at virtually every other candidate who tried that this midterm, well, it is only fair to admit that is probably the primary reason he lost.

This is not, however, why he got his butt kicked, which is the title of this article: "How to get your butt kicked in a US senate race in the South in five easy steps," not "How to lose mildly cuz it's, like, hard to win, y'all"...

So, how did Phil Bredesen get such a butt kickin’?

Proceed to Step 2.

Step 2


Go to Phil Bredesen’s website and see if you can figure out what the heck this man stands for.

I’ll wait.

I’m still waiting.

Yo! I don't have all day! I got kids to feed! (That isn’t true, but you get it.)

What does Phil Bredesen stand for?

I’m still trying to figure that out too. And that’s not good when you’re running for US Senate in the South as a barely Democrat. That’s fine if you’re running as a member of the ruling party; that’s not fine when you’re trying to climb a dang mountain.

All jests and jabs aside, his campaign slogan was (I think…)


Let’s break that down.



All Southerners claim to love working. That isn’t actually true more than half the time, but it’s a great start!

Working together


See the expression on the face of that emoji? That is the expression just about every single democrat and independent voter gave me when I knocked on their door before Bredesen really messed things up on October 5 when he…wait, wait, I’ll save that for Step 3.

Working together…?

Naw, man. This is the age of Donald Trump. There is no “working together.” In fact, if you even try to work together…

This is a dog fight, and if there is anything a Southerner loves more than pulling the lever for a business-man, it’s pulling the lever for a pit bull trained to tear out your throat.

See what I’m sayin’?

Blackburn is gross AF. That’s certainly true. But Blackburn can fight.

Bredesen? He can’t. Or…what might be even worse, he doesn’t fight.

Instead, he calmly insists that if we all just hold hands, sing some songs, and “work together to get ‘things’ done,” we will all somehow magically enter a fairy land of pixy dust and problem solving and, presto change-o, "things” will be better.

Democrats have forgotten how to fight, and everyone is sick and tired of it.

Disagree with me all you want, but knocking doors for a campaign is the best way to measure the temperament of voters.

For that beautiful week I returned to my hometown to knock doors for the first democratic Senate hopeful we’ve had in a long time (before he really messed things up on October 5 when he…wait, wait, I’ll save that for Step 3), I heard this sentiment over and over and over:

“Democrats are too yellow.” Racist…but true.

“Democrats need to grow some balls.” Sexist…but also true.

And, no lie: “Why are Democrats such f*&%ing p*&^%ies?”

Me: “Well…I’m a Democrat…and I don’t think I’m a p*&^%y…but I feel you, man. I feel you.”

Working together to get things done…

“…to get things done’”????????

What does “to get things done” even mean?!

What…things are you referring to?

And do you really want the word “done” in your campaign slogan?

Take it from a poet: No. You don’t. Like, really. You really really don’t want the word DONE on the landing page of your campaign website.

This is the real head scratcher, the one that has me flipping upside down and feeling the need to expel the contents of my stomach: Bredesen’s messaging.

He has run numerous successful local and state-wide campaigns. He is a business-man. He’s got all the common sense in the world, but if you try to figure out what the heck this man stands for, you might as well try to figure out what Donald Trump stands for.


Yes, yes, I suppose working together to get “things” done is certainly something, but you gotta be more specific than that—no matter when or where you are running.

Step 2 to getting your butt kicked in a US Senate Race in the South is to


Step 3

Betray Your Base

Breathe deep…


All jokes aside. We are going to get through this.

Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing re-traumatized all of us who are survivors (or love anyone who is a survivor) of sexual assault, toxic masculinity, bullying, and so on.

When Bredesen released his completely unwarranted and unmerited statement of support for Kavanaugh (regardless of your position on Kavanaugh) he struck a deep chord in the hearts of Tennesseans, he lost his base, and he lost the Independents he and his campaign so desperately coveted.

If there’s one thing Independent voters in the South hate, it’s bullshit, and Bredesen's statement was bull-shit.

Word on the street is the Bredesen campaign’s internal polling revealed that 70% of Independent rural voters supported Kavanaugh. Thus Bredesen’s announcement.

Also word on the street: He wouldn’t have actually voted to confirm. This was just smart political game-man-ship.

Yeah, no shit. Bull shit, in fact.

I first heard about his statement from my mother, Linda McFadyen-Ketchum, who, btw, just helped Tennessee score a mountain-moving political victory in the election of Bob Freeman to the State House. (My mom will blush and then argue she had little to do with it; we all know she has a lot to do with a lot of political victories in this town. So, I digress a moment, to say, again, “Congratulations, mom, for being such an ace-kicker.")

My mom: “Did you see what Bredesen said about Kavanaugh?”

Me: “Noooooo????”

My mom: “You better go look on twitter.”

My first reaction was to drop my jaw in shock.

My second reaction was to push my jaw back up into my face, do some snooping, and then get on facebook and rant and rave.

My third reaction was to call the campaign I had left living in a yurt (ok, a tent, but a really nice tent) a five-minute walk from the beach on the central coast of California to volunteer for.

I broke my toe on a potted plant while knocking doors for this man.

I got a stress fracture in my right foot from walking five miles a day while talking to voters on their doorsteps for this man.

sorry for the foot photo but really???

I almost had an accident on one of those stupid scooter thingys while making a stupid Insta-story while trying to make good time while canvassing for this man.

And this is his position on Brett-f(*&^ing-Kavanaugh?

So I got on the phone and dialed the campaign office.

No one answered.

So I left an angry voice mail. Yes, angry. Cuz I was…angry. And I dern well should have been. We all were.


No call back. No email. No…nothing.

So I told other people to call his office. I put the number out on facebook and texted all my people, and they also called, and they also got his voicemail, and they also left angry voicemails, and they also got no response, and we were not alone.

Lots of Tennesseans called and emailed and hash-tagged and tweeted and facebooked and and and-ed…


Some of us did manage penetrate the wall of silence and talk to some of their staff.

What did they say?

Something like this: We all know Phil is a conservative Democrat.

Uhhhhh, a conservative Democrat? [Kava]naw, man. Naw.

Bredesen proved himself to be that variety of spineless and bullshitty Democrats and Independents are sick and tired of in this country, let alone this state. Voters recognize when a politician is being a politician and they are sick and tired of it, particularly when it comes from a supposed liberal who thinks it’s all good to score votes on the backs of women and people of color.

Even so, somehow, perplexingly, bizarrely, Bredesen had the gall to tweet this five days later:

Here’s where my draw drops out of my face again.


It is you, Mr. Bredesen, who weaponized sexual violence, not whoever the heck you took aim at in this tweet.

You used the bodies of women (particularly the bodies of women of color) to score yourself, a white male landowner, a political victory.

If you know anything about US history, you know a little something about white male landowners and how they have scored political victories since 1776 by using the bodies of women, people of color, and particularly women of color.

Phil Bredesen needed every single ounce of his base to vote for him to win this election.

He took a huge political "risk" when he tried to do so on the backs of women and women of color and those of us who support women and women of color. He lost his base that day—not only their votes, but their hearts and their volunteer hours.

What’s worse (yeah, it gets worse), he also lost the Independent vote.

Independent Southern voters are smart. They know political games-man-ship when they see it, and they are tired of it.

All jokes aside. We are going to get through this.

Step 3 to getting your butt kicked in a US Senate Race in the South is to


Step 4

F*&k up and Hide

There’s a little known adage that goes something like this:

“If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.”

(if you are rolling your eyes with irony, please see Step 5)

It is critical to remember that Bredesen didn’t need to say anything about Kavanaugh…at all. Cuz, you know, he wasn’t a US Senator on October 5, just like he never will be a US Senator.

If you have nothing nice to say, Mr. Bredesen, say nothing at all...which, in the most bizarre twist of his campaign, is exactly what he did after he made that absurd statement.

He said…nothing.

That isn't exactly true. He defended the statement itself in the day’s following, but he was silent on all the other hot-button political issues of this election and our time.

What is Bredesen’s position on immigrants being held in camps in the middle of the desert?


What plan does Bredesen have for, say, the deficit?


What about education…or corporate welfare…or social security…or…climate change…or…anything…


When you drop earth-shattering political news and get oodles of media attention for it,

you gotta have something to say about other "things."

After that statement, Bredesen had nothing. I mean, nothing.

No five-point plan to save the country.

No new campaign ads.


Step 4 to getting your butt kicked in a US Senate Race in the South is to


Step 5

Sell out our vote

Y’all, I’ve been working on this piece since 5 AM. I’m tried. I’m heart-broken. I’m angry. I’m going to get yelled at a lot for this blog post.

I know I should select all and delete. I know I should protect my feelings because I have, like, lots of feels. I’m a sensitive poet who wears pink cardigans and still hasn’t learned to take the punches, particularly when it comes from other liberals.

But I’m tired.

I am tired of losing because the Democrats are spineless and deceitful.

I voted for Bredesen even though I knew he was going to lose, and I said I wouldn't this time.

But I voted for him anyway. Just like I did for Hillary Clinton, who I did not know was going to lose, but who I really did not want to vote for.

I voted straight ticket this time.

Well, almost.

I voted straight ticket until I got to Jeff Yarbro who represents District 21 in the Tennessee State Senate. He ran unopposed, so I thought, “What the heck, I’ll write myself in.” So I did.

I know—what a jackass thing to do, right?

Or is it?

Here’s what I think we have to do if we are going to stop getting our butts kicked here in the South and across the nation:

It’s time WE ran for office instead of letting THEM run for office.

Unless we truly believe in the people we are voting for, I don't see any other solution. Every time we Ds second guess our vote, we lose. Every. Damn. Time.

And when we do run, believe it or not, sometimes we win!

Like, for real, there are lots of candidates across the nation who are anything but the norm who are actually winning. See Bob Freeman. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Wilmot Collins.

It’s time we started running candidates we believe in.

The argument that simply voting is going to solve the problem has clearly been shown not to be true.

We voted this go-round. A lot. And we were darned proud of ourselves for it. If you missed that on facebook, twitter, Instagram, your email, your smartphone, the newspaper, your text messages, your neighbor…well, you're living under a really big rock.

And we should be proud of that.

Here in Tennessee, there was a massive influx of voters under 30:

And, still, we got our butt kicked.

Doing our civic duty is our duty--it's not enough.

Last week I went to a Trump rally in Southern Illinois. I went undercover as a Trump supporter. Like, yeah, I bought a damn MAGA hat for ten bucks and dawned a USA t-shirt and talked with my best Southern accent of which I don't have much.

The crowd was full of young people. I'd say roughly 50%.

And Trump?

He practically floated up there on that stage. It was painful to watch, but, lordy…I’m telling you, he practically sprouted angels wings.

People love him. Almost as much as he loves himself.

And conservative and independent Tennesseans love Blackburn. That is why she won. Because they love her.

Step 5 to getting your butt kicked in a US Senate Race in the South is to


If we’re going to turn the tide, it’s time we ran candidates we love, not ones we loathe.

Sometimes that’s your mom. Sometimes that’s your best friend. Sometimes that’s you.

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